Patagonia -Coming to an End

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Leaving Paine Grande we headed to Campamento Italiano. It was a relatively short hike, but we knew there were two miradors after we arrived and dropped our packs that we wanted to see.

Francés and Británico miradors. 

We needed to get to camp after crossing a raging river on a one-person swinging bride. As I am standing, waiting for my turn to pass over this unreliable-looking bridge, I am thinking, “one person of normal size with a 20lb pack, or a small child, or a large grown man with a 30lb pack or …?” What truly does a one-person bridge mean? 

It reminds me of how God works in our lives. Sometimes there is no answer right away, and life feels like a risk. Often. But in the end always works out according to plan. 

I could allow negative thoughts, doubt, anxiety, fear, despair, worry, denial, disbelief, or uncertainty fill my head. Fill my heart. I could stand on that bridge and see the massive, furious, arctic river below me and the old, weathered, wooden, swinging bridge ahead of me and stop dead in my tracks allowing panic to grip me, but God isn’t a God of panic. He’s not a God of fear or anxiety. He FREES us from all of that! 

“This is my command-be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

We crossed and checked in to Italiano, set up camp, filled our water bottles, and set out for the miradors. 

The Valle Francés was inconceivable! The entire trip, I said over and over how beautiful each place was but this…. We stopped and took tons of pictures and then pressed on towards Británico. Patagonia is full of beauty but also full of unpredictable weather, and as we pushed towards our next mirador, the clouds started rolling in. We continued as the wind ripped at us, and then the rain started. Light at first, and then really picking up. We pulled out our rain gear from our slack packs and decided that, as we looked towards the mountains, it was only getting worse, and the view we were craving was going to have too much cloud cover, so we turned back for camp. 

We got back to camp, peeled out of our rain gear, made some dinner, and dropped into the tent. 

We continued on to Campo Central the next day, and we knew as we approached that we were nearing the end of this hike but that the most unprecedented part of our journey was ahead. Los Torres. 

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We waited in line to check-in, found a place out of the wind to pitch our tent, and headed for the showers. Ya know, being clean and showering are things we really take for granted. It’s such a luxury on a backpacking trip! The showers were HOT, and I stood in there way too long! 

Afterward, we decided to hike over to the Refugio. The restaurant was warm, and we ordered GIANT beers that tasted like a little bit of heaven. They made us lazy and sleepy, which was exactly what we needed for a quick bedtime. We had an early alarm for our frigid, dark hike to the Towers before the sun rose in the morning. 

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Our daybreak was cold — possibly the coldest of the entire trek. Most of our days were warm, hot even, with the harsh sun and no ozone. When we did have rain, we welcomed it! We left our tent and belongings at camp, hiking only with our slack packs filled with water, tea, some food items, and warm clothes. We started early, pre-dawn with our headlamps on. 

I was walking in constant prayer on our ascent. Meditative. I knew this was our last day, and I was overwhelmed in my heart with gratitude. The reasons many. The time with my husband, the adventurous spirit God created in the two of us, our friendship, and the fact that we can spend days and weeks together in a pocket-sized tent and still laugh, still love, not argue, and grow even closer together as a couple. Thankful that my husband respects and encourages the wild-girl in me. We get one another to our depths. Grateful for the opportunity to start this journey, and the healing that took place on my body to get us to the trail start. I am utterly floored by this Earth and the paradise that God has created for us. Everything so intricate and complex. I was, and am always so taken by the enormous mountains and how small and humbled they leave me feeling, stripped of everything, deprived of ego and pride. Hiking allows us the opportunity to feel God at a whole new level, a deepening, to see His provision in our lives, to hear him in a way that is clear and simple and uncomplicated. It’s easy when you break it down. He provides all we need and loves us so wholly and excessively. I was most grateful for the way the Most-High spoke to my husband. Revealing to him some areas that we were struggling with direction and trying to find closure. 

We both know when we are in a place of discontent, confusion, uneasiness, or dissatisfaction, it comes from us not being aligned on the path that our Creator has us on. Things in our hearts that God never assigned to us. It’s so easy to veer. Easy to get caught up with our own agendas, eagerness, yearnings, and desires. It’s easy to “think” we are walking in God’s will and to B E N D our intention J U S T enough to feign closeness to what God wants for our lives, but when it comes right down to it… it is a skewed view that ends us up on an uneven, angled messed up path. Not matched or harmonized at all with what God’s plan is. We falter and end up thinking, “how did we get into this situation?” “Why aren’t things better?” “How is this still happening in my life?” 

The mountains make it simple to listen. 

As we continued our ascent, getting to a bouldering area, we knew we were getting closer. The trail was getting more difficult. We were excited about our first view of the Towers. The pinnacle of this entire trek! 

 When we reached the top, we paused — suspended in a moment awe-inspiring beauty!  

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Cordillera del Paine is such a spectacular set of mountains! It’s the area known as the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine), the three massive summits are gigantic granite monoliths that are UNESCO-declared biosphere reserves. The highest peak of the range is Cerro Paine Grande, at 2,884 meters (9,461 feet).

Paine means “blue” in the native Tehuelche language and is pronounced PIE-nay

It was COLD, and the wind bit at us. We met up with others that had been in our original group the day we started in Laguna Amarga, each of us making this pilgrimage in our own time. Little by little, we trickled in. We took photos, sipped hot tea, broke bread together, all nestled next to an outcropping of rocks away from the wind and elements. 

Soon, we knew we needed to return to camp and break down to make our busses back to Puerto Natales. 

It was hard to leave. Hard to turn our backs on this extraordinary work of beauty. 

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Returning to camp was somber. It’s hard when you know a journey is coming to an end. Sometimes I feel like I could wander the mountains forever. Every time I hike I love the stripping away it does on me. Peeling off the lamina. I come back changed in some way. Always. Something is left behind, dropped off, and left in the dirt, unneeded, with new lessons learned, and new promises and assurances put in its place. It gives me time to do some soul searching and reevaluating. Where does God want us/me? Where is He placing us for most use? What’s important? What do we genuinely need? What is superficial and fake and inauthentic in me or in those I have in my life? Where do I draw the line? What boundaries need set or reestablished? What do I need to let loose of? Am I harboring unforgiveness for anyone? Have I put unnecessary pressure on myself or those around me in any way? 

 It’s the opportunity for God to pluck me up, and right my path with such clarity, it’s undeniable. 

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We packed up in near silence, only joking about how stinky we were. We headed to the Refugio and met up with our fellow hikers. It was fun to have one final toast to our accomplishments, to hear the stories from everyone about their journey on this incredible trek — their take-away from the trail. One beer down and we loaded our bus back to Puerto Natales, spending a couple of days here before hopping a plane for Santiago, where we almost missed our flight due to falling asleep in the airport. How were we to know they changed the gate?  I joke! We ran for our new gate in a drowsy stupor and reached the jetway only to see closed doors. We stood staring, weary, fatigue ravaging us and just started pounding on the glass doors. As the jetway was moving and the agent approached the doors, she saw us and having mercy on our completely worn-out souls, stopped the bridge, and asked them to let us on the plane. Had we been in the States… no way this would’ve happened. I could’ve kissed this sweet Chilean woman straight on the mouth. 

 

We laughed & laughed after finding our seats because this is always the way for G and I. Always coming in, hurriedly, screaming, with our pants on fire. We aren’t and have never been “planners,” and this sort of thing is just expected in any given circumstance with us. In this situation, however, we were just plain spent and fell into a delicious, deep sleep on benches in the aeropuerto. 

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We spent a few days in Santiago in the spa-comfort of a fabulous hotel. Allowing ourselves pampering and delicious PLANT-BASED foods (boy do we always miss greens and fruit) and exploring the city.

Off and away from the mountains….

Grateful, continually. Humbled, unceasingly. Changed, as always.

Patagonia Dias Uno a Siete

“The tragedy of this life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it.” 

The cinnamon whiskey is hot as it’s sweetness hits my throat and coats my belly. It makes me feel good and warms me up. Although the inside of our paper-thin ultralight tent is like a sauna inside, I’ve been freezing all day. I lay back and hear the murmured whispers of other people around us. Backpackers are rolling into camp, setting up their room for the night. The wind is hard, and it’s whipping the thin material of our tent vestibules, making it hard to rest. The sun is still high. Today, thank God, was an easy hiking day. I need to sleep. Only a day prior, I had been fever-ridden, sleeping restlessly in a hostel in Puerto Natales, Chile piled four-high with sheepskins for warmth. I lay back wondering if it was smart to start this journey. It was risky. I had considered staying back in Puerto Natales and sending G on his way, but I had to give it a shot, knowing that once we started, there was no turning back. No search and rescue, no way off of the O except finishing it in its entirety. That’s the stubbornness in me. 

When I had woken up this morning, the fever had broke. I still felt like death when we boarded the bus in Puerto Natales that took us to the ranger station of Torres Del Paine in Laguna Amarga. This is a two-hour trip, so I slept on the bus and prayed that this sickness would leave me. There was too much planning, logistics, and heart that had gone into this trek — one of the hardest travel plans we’ve EVER made. 

We climb out of the bus with 60 other backpackers, check-in, and start our day. It’s slow, my chest incredibly congested, my nose stuffed. Even on a good, healthy day, I knew this journey would have some difficulty. I second guess my decision to start. What if I literally cannot make it? I have to! We are carrying everything we need for the next eight days on our backs, and even though we are accustomed to this and have packed light, my pack feels heavy. I am so congested. My breathing incredibly labored. 

The mostly flat/rolling terrain and 13-kilometer hike was a blessing on this first day out of Laguna Amarga. I was still star-struck with the whole idea of us being in Patagonia. Pata-freaking-gonia, I kept thinking. It’s one of those trips we’ve talked about and dreamed about for years. Now I’m sick and miserable and fighting each step to get to our first camp. 

As I lay back in our tiny Big Agnes tent, I think, “there’s no turning back now.” 

We are at Serón. 

Logistically speaking, this trip was outrageous! We didn’t want to go with a guide, a team, a mule train…you get my point, so I was left to the booking arrangements. There are three players in Patagonia;  Fantastico Sur,  Vertice Patagonia, and CONAF. These are the three places you will go to for booking all camps and refugios. We had decided to hike both the W and the O circuit; The “O” includes the “W” trail, with the addition of the backside, or northern section of the mountain to make it a long loop, – 130 kilometers. A max of 80 people are allowed onto the backside O a day. It’s undoubtedly a more challenging trail, and it’s also without refugios, but it’s all worth it when, as you finish climbing John Garner Pass, you get an unprecedented view of the icecap Glacier Grey. 

The booking process was maddening. Very strict dates are required, and none of these agencies work together. Not to mention they ALL hold different camps and refugios on different parts of the trek, and not in order. CONAF being the government-held camps does not even open for registration until much later in the year, so as we booked Fantastico and Vertice camps in August for our February trip, we could not book CONAF until sometime around November. The spots fill quickly, so as you can imagine, by the time CONAF rolled online for reservations, the dates we had booked through the other two agencies didn’t work out into the CONAF schedule. The day we landed in Santiago, Chile, we didn’t have a full camp itinerary, and let me tell you, as you walk into each camp, they check your reservations, along with your passport and the PDI slip. If you are off by a day, you will be asked to go back. 

Campsites are arranged like this:

Vertice Patagonia – Campsites: Dickson, Los Perros, Grey and Paine Grande

Fantasticosur – Campsites: Serón, Los Cuernos, El Chileano, Central and Frances

CONAF – Free Campsites: Italiano, Paso and Torres Ranger Station & Camping

After arriving in Santiago, Chile and spending a day and night we flew down to Punta Arenas and stayed at a great hostel. I was chilly as we took a walk around town, and we were amused that our weather app showed that we were in the “Antarctic Zone” as it is the southern-most city before Antarctica. We wandered down by the water; The Straight of Magellan, for a while and headed back to our hostel and to bed early as we had a bus to catch at daybreak.

Thankfully we had three days to spend in Puerta Natales before heading onto the O. I was incredibly sick and we still did not have our reservations for camp. After going back and forth between the offices of Vertice and Fantastico, waiting in line and jostling dates we thought we had them all together, but after further review I had missed a camp, shifting a date, and had to start all over with new dates. I was down for the count at this point, in bed, shivering with the worst flu ever. My poor NON-Spanish speaking husband had to go back to these offices with new dates. By the grace of the Holy God, he was able to “pictionary” his way through. They made some calls for him and BOOM, he came back with our itinerary…..to leave in the morning!

Seron Camp is a basic camp. It’s a grassy field with two picnic-style tables that have a tarp for wind cover. You have to cook in these designated tarp areas only at every site. I barely remember being at Seron, to be honest. I slept and went into the hut to cook dehydrated soup with our MSR stove one time. I loved hearing and seeing all of the friendly faces and different nationalities and languages of the people we would be spending the next 8-9 days alongside. Once you start the O-circuit, and because they limit the number of people on the trail, these become your leap-frogging trail friends. 

The following day, we broke camp early and headed out to Dickenson Camp. The views were unbelievable, and we kept finding ourselves stopping every chance we got to take it all in! It’s a steep climb and steep downhill coming into Dickenson. Today was 19 kilometers; It’s one of the most beautiful camps on the O. Once you arrive and check-in, you can find a spot for your tent anywhere you want. We shrugged out of our packs and wandered around. We saw a fox scampering along the treeline. We set our tent so that in the morning, as we unzipped to make coffee, we would have a perfect view of the soaring mountains and glaciers. Dickenson has a great set up for cooking. A little cabin-like shelter, with electricity — also, hot showers and bathrooms and even a small area where they sell snacks. We bought Pringles and chocolate here. 

After pitching our tent, we showered and laid in the hot sun, waiting to see who and when the others would roll into camp. It was at this camp that we met “the two traveling nurses” who were from the States, working at different locations in the States until they save enough for their next great adventure. They travel on their earnings for a few months, return to the US, work for a few months only to repeat the process over and over. We loved swapping stories about the places we’ve all been in common and the enjoyment of different cultures, cuisines and our unquenchable wanderlust. 

We also met “One Pole and the Goodr Girls”, a group consisting of a guy and two women traveling together. One Pole lost one of his trekking poles along the first leg of the trip and came into camp with one…deeming him “One Pole” The women he was with both wore my favorite brand of athletic glasses; Goodr and have friends who work for the company, thus-The Goodr Girls.

There was also an Argentinean father and two sons, two Chilean buddies traveling together, and a pair of Aussies (a father and son) who we cooked and had dinner with at Dickenson. We’ve never laughed so hard in our lives as we did with these two and their quirky personalities. Still, some of the moments we laugh about the most from this trip come from these two. 

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